Addis Ababa Travel Blog› entry 11 of 12 › view all entries
October 16th, 2005 – by: rosemary_mcandrew
We flew back to the capital of Ethiopia, Addia Ababa. The Lonely Planet refers to it as "the cheap and cheerful capital that grows on you surprisingly quickly"
My impression was of a sprawling, unlovely city with pockets of affluence, but huge areas of desperate poverty. There were more beggars and the poverty seemed far more pressing than we had seen in other areas (and thats saying something). There was much homelessness, women forced into prostitution, and HIV is rife.
HIV hangs over the entire country (and continent) like a black cloud. There are signs everywhere about preventing the spread. The street of our hotel had a 'Voluntary HIV testing and counselling centre". I saw a sign on one of the streets that said "Having HIV you can still raise children to be responsible and worthwhile citizens" This was accompanied by a huge picture of a "3rd year university student (HIV negative), a 10th year school student (HIV negative) and a mother (living with the HIV virus for 7 years)"
When we were in the mountains, our guide asked Cameron how long you could live if you found out you had HIV.
In Addis we stayed at the 'Extreme Hotel'. It was comfortable (though not extreme). We had 4 nights in Addis (separated by a trip to our next destination, Harar), but believed this to be at least 2 nights too many. We walked up to an Ethiopian airlines office to try to change our flight. We figured that those 2 extra nights may be better spent in that shiny paradise, Dubai, rather than walking the dirty, desparate streets of Addis. We'd been in the countryside where all of Ethiopia's attractions were, and there just seemed nothing nice about the capital at all (plus, I didn't want it to grow on me)
A guy at the Ethiopian Airlines office told us that the tickets we had had cost US$400 more than they should have (not that he was offering a refund).
Normally, Ethiopian airlines will allow you to change dates as much as you like, and for no cost. However, paying more means you can't (well of course....)
He wanted to help us though, and said that he would check with his boss (if it was even possible to change) and we should come back the next day.
Cameron went us alone in the morning while I slept, and found out that we could change the dates but the penalty was US$50 per ticket. Bless him, he paid it, and came back with our brand new tickets. There was still one more place in Ethiopia we were visiting and we were leaving the next day, but as soon as we got back to Addis we would leave for Dubai straight away.
That afternoon we hired a taxi to go to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. This hospital was set up in 1959 by two Australian obstetrician/gynaecologists called Reg and Catherine Hamlin. The role of the hospital is to surgically repair fistulas in women who have had an obstructed labour. Around 9000 women in Ethiopia suffer from this terrible condition every year resulting in a constant trickling of urine.
We knew about this place as I'd read Catherine Hamlin's book "The Hospital by the River". It is such a truly wonderful and inspiring book and I would highly recommend anybody reading it. Reg has since died, but Dr Catherine is still operating even though she is probably close to 80.
It was such a heartwarming place even though it is such a heartbreaking problem. We say many young girls at various stages of their stay. Some had just arrived and were waiting to be examined, puddles of urine collecting under their chairs. Others were lying in beds in the large, super clean ward. It was old style, meaning a single large, long ward with beds on either side.
There was a well equipped modern operating theatre with 4 operations able to be performed simultaneously. Girls operated on that day were next to the theatres, on drips in recovery.
The average stay at the hospital is 3 weeks and during recovery they are taught to read and write and ladies from the "Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association" teach them about women's rights in Ethiopia.
There was a large kitchen that provides 3 hearty meals per day. Most of the girls arrive malnourished and so they are built up with meat, injera (the Ethiopian staple, like a pancake), potatos, and bananas.
There was also X-Ray facilities, a modern laboratory, doctors quarters, a urodynamics centre as well as physiotherapy facilities.
The Australian government has given a lot of money to expand the hospital, and Oprah Winfrey, who heard about the cause and had Dr Catherine on her show, also donated money for some other buildings to be added to the grounds.
All the girls are treated entirely free of charge, and the hospital relies totally on donations. It costs around US$500 for each operation. The girls mainly arrive totally destitute, barefoot, with only the urine soaked rags on their backs. They often rely on begging to raise the money to get to Addis. Some are thrown off the bus because they leak urine everywhere. One women took 10 years to finally get there.
The good news though is that 93% are totally cured and go home with a new dress provided by the hospital, and a new lease of life. They are ecstatic.
The lady that showed us around, a midwife called Ruth Kennedy, told us that their role is not just to mend them physically but emotionally as well.
Most of the girls are outcasts of their villages because of their condition. Most of their husbands abandon them, and some of their families too.
It seemed a very caring envirnonment. As we walked along and passed some of the girls, Ruth could say something kind to them in Ahmaric and give them a little pat which would produce a big smile.
Another reason why is is a very caring environment is because many of the staff working there are former fistula patients and know first hand how they are feeling.
There are now plans to build 4 more of these centres, in the north, south, east, and west of the country to make it easier for those that live far away to get treatment. The day we were there, they had heard that AUSAID had agreed to finance one of the centres. It was really worthwhile visiting.
What we actually did like about Addis was the wide variety of restaurants to choose from.
After eating basic traditional food in the north, it was a bit of a treat to eat something fancier.
These restaurants are the domain of expats and rich Ethiopians, and as terrible as it sounds, once inside, you could almost forget you were actually in Ethiopia. Except when you are in a taxi going home and have beggars tapping at the window at the traffic lights.
One night we ate at the "Swiss Cottage". It had very nice food and looked the domain of ambassadors and other similarly important people.
The next night we went to the Sheraton for dinner. They had a sumptous buffet dinner and gorgeous desserts.
It was very expensive by local standards but still only around half the price a similar meal would cost in Australia. It was very nice food with a strong middle eastern influence.
We didn't really bring any good clothes with us (not thinking we would need them), so we picked the best of what we had and tried to look neat otherwise. I also tried to hide my flea bitten arms under the table!
The next morning we were up at 5:30am to get to the airport to go to our final destination, Harar, in the east.
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